Saturday, June 21, 2008

Field Trips - Learning by Experience (PLUS - CONTEST - see rules at the end)

Preview for the next post: Ella and I hiking during our most recent field trip:

One of the advantages of homeschooling is that not everyday has to be a "classroom" day. Because you only have X-number of children to deal with (in my case, an easy "1"), provided you have a vehicle that can carry you and all your gang around, field trips are limited only by your imagination and your budget!

Montessori is all about learning through experience, not (as is the common way) learning through lectures/teaching/observing. Let's consider these over-used methods.

Almost any university or college uses this method either primarily or (in some cases) almost exclusively. This method can work extremely well or terribly poorly; it all depends on who is lecturing, and who is listening. Lectures work very well for me. I'm an aural learner (one who learns well by hearing). But, for visual or kinesthetic learners (those who learn by observing or those who learn by moving/motion), a lecture-only environment is useless.

The difference between lecturing and teaching is a fine line, and one that often blurs. Where as a lecturer talks about a subject, a teacher tries constantly to engage the students, watching for response, inviting discussion, and trying always to bring about understanding in the minds of the students. Many teachers can lecture very well, but a lecturer is not necessarily a very good teacher.

This is the most common addition to any teaching or lecturing. Aural learners are simply not as common, despite it being the most frequent method of teaching, and so teachers add something (sometimes that can mean "anything" - however far they have to stretch it) for students to look at. Usually this involves a hand-out, picture, diagram, chart, object, etc.

But, despite most educational institutions depending on the aural method of teaching, almost every child ends up spending much more time being taught through observation, and the medium is probably sitting in your living room. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of excellent, educational programs out there, but ultimately your child is not experiencing anything! He or she is observing others experiencing something. Do you see the difference?

There are a lot of activities and places that you and your child will never get to experience, and for those things you can teach about it, read about it, imagine/role play it, or observe it. But there is also innumerable activities and places that you and your child can experience, and whenever you think of one of those, write it down and try to work it in as a field trip as soon as you think your child is ready.

Field Trip
In the past, we've taken Ella on field trips to the zoo, the aquarium, the museum, and (of course) multiple field trips to the library. We've gone hiking and talked about identifying trees (she's got cedar and birch down pat - easy to recognise their barks). We've looked at commemorative statues in the park, differing kinds of ships in the harbour, and how to follow a map when hiking in the woods or when walking around a city. All these things, regardless of whether they're typically taught in the public school system, are part of education, or should be.

But there's no control of error if you're doing them in the classroom. In the classroom you can look at videos or pictures of animals, either aquatic or terrestrial - but you can't experience them. In the classroom you can talk about history and look at pictures of the way things were, but you can't walk through and touch real models, and in some cases learn to do the things people did "back then." In the classroom you might be able to have a section of a tree to "experience," a small log showing its bark and a leaf perhaps, but it cannot compare to identifying a tree in it's natural environment. In the classroom you can study maps and write down directions, but you can't follow the maps and discover if you've arrived at the location that was your goal.

Because of the vast difference in observing or talking about something with actually experiencing it, field trips almost always trump classroom time. Please note: there are some areas in which field trips have limited use, namely mathematics, phonetics/reading, chemistry, etc. Often these subjects can be integrated with everyday life. Math can come in handy while shopping, phonetics/reading while you're driving down the road looking at signs, chemistry while baking, and anything else you can come up with using a little bit of ingenuity!

I began this post as an introduction to a post on our most recent field trip, but since it got so long, I'll leave it as a teaser for my next post: Our Super-sized Field Trip.

Can anyone guess where our field trip took us? If you are the first to post a comment and guess correctly you'll get a prize: a relevant postcard will be sent to you of this year's Super-sized field trip.

Don't leave your address in the comment, just your guess - whoever wins will be announced in my next post which will happen on Friday (if all goes as planned). At that time, the winner may submit another comment on the post titled "Our Super-sized Field Trip" that includes your mailing information and e-mail address. I will "reject" the comment, because I'm sure you don't want such information visible for all the world to see.

This contest is open to anyone who lives on planet Earth who does not know me personally. (Sorry to all those who do know me personally - but chances are you already know the answer, and so are disqualified!)

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